Charles Mackerras

Dvorák: Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9

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There have been dozens of impressive international performances of Dvorák's Eighth and Ninth: the driven Toscanini, the opulent Karajan, the dramatic Solti, the heroic Kertesz, the rhythmic Rowicki, and the symphonic Davis among many others. But the performances that best catch the lilt of the melodies, the sway of the rhythms, and the pungency of the blend of Dvorák's music are the Czech performances: the sweet-toned Talich, the gracefully angular Ancerl, and the achingly lyrical Kubelík. These 2005 recordings by Charles Mackerras with the Prague Symphony Orchestra surely belong among that special group. They belong there not just because the Prague Symphony performs with the radiant tone and effortless sense of evanescence that come naturally to Czech musicians or because the performances were recorded by Supraphon with the depth of field and immediacy of presence customary to that company. They belong there because Mackerras is about as close to being a Czech conductor as a fellow born in Schenectady, NY, can be. Raised in Australia but trained by Talich as a conductor in Prague after the war, Mackerras later made a specialty of leading the works of Czech composers and his performances here of Dvorák's Eighth and Ninth are full of professional admiration, personal affection, and accumulated wisdom. The way Mackerras lifts the rhythms, molds the melodies, balances the sonorities, shapes the harmonies, and moves the tempos is so tender yet so strong, so soft yet so hard, so sweet yet so spicy, so, in a word, characteristically Czech as to bring tears to the eyes of Bohemian patriots everywhere. Yet these performances are also characteristically Mackerras with a wit and a sparkle that, as anyone who knows Mozart, Beethoven, or Mahler, is all his own.

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